NCHC commissioner Josh Fenton says all teams in league are at least 90 percent vaccinated
Fenton said the league operated in a surplus financially despite the challenges of COVID-19 last season.
ST. PAUL, Minn. — National Collegiate Hockey Conference commissioner Josh Fenton spent last season operating on a week-to-week basis.
There were constant changes to the league's schedule because of COVID-19 outbreaks on teams. The league's end-of-the-season tournament concluded with two squads — Colorado College and Denver — playing extremely shorthanded because of COVID-19 protocols.
It's unlikely the 2021-22 season will be the same, though.
Fenton said Thursday during his annual state of the conference address in the Xcel Energy Center that all eight league teams have vaccination rates greater than 90 percent.
"With just over two weeks remaining prior to our start, all of our programs have vaccination rates between 90 and 100 percent," Fenton said.
Minnesota Duluth revealed this week that both of its men's and women's hockey programs are at 100 percent.
UND isn't at 100 percent yet, but it is close.
"Hopefully, in a short amount of time, we'll be at 100 percent," UND coach Brad Berry said.
Fenton said the league isn't introducing any mandates or requirements to get vaccinated, but he said the NCHC will follow recommendations by the NCAA Sports Science Institute.
"There are differences in testing and quarantining based on an individual's vaccination status," he said.
Fenton said there's an NCHC athletic directors call scheduled for next Tuesday. Then, they'll decide how to proceed if a COVID-19 outbreak on a team depletes the roster to the point where that team is unable to play. Some leagues are forcing teams to forfeit games if they have outbreaks, but the NCHC also is considering counting it as a no contest.
"If we have a COVID issue within a team and it takes a team out, it's most likely an issue that's going into vaccinated people," Fenton said. "With vaccination rates between 90 and 100 percent, you would think we would have the number of student-athletes (needed) to go into a competition."
NCHC turns a profit
Perhaps, the NCHC Pod — bringing all eight league members to Omaha to play 38 games in 21 days last December — wasn't the most impressive feat the league pulled off last season.
Despite the expense of the Pod and generating little ticket revenue because of crowd capacity limits, the NCHC managed to turn a profit in 2021-22.
Fenton cited the increase in NCHC TV viewership and a successful NCHC Frozen Faceoff in Grand Forks' Ralph Engelstad Arena as keys for revenue. The Frozen Faceoff is usually held in St. Paul, but was placed in Grand Forks due to COVID-19 challenges.
"The 2021 event was held in the best manner given our circumstances," Fenton said. "Most importantly, all participants were kept safe.
"We very much look forward to being back in St. Paul in March, but we'll be forever appreciative to everyone at UND and The Ralph for making the 2021 Frozen Faceoff one we will never forget."
Fenton also said the league's tactical moves to reduce expenses helped.
Future rules changes?
Fenton said conference commissioners and the American Hockey Coaches Association have submitted a letter to the NCAA Student-Athlete Experience Committee asking them them to consider sponsoring two proposals.
They would like to see the NCAA change the first full week of practices to the week leading up to the first day of allowable competition. Right now, the first day of full practice often falls on the day before the first preseason exhibition games for teams.
Up until that point, teams have very limited practice hours.
"What we find is teams are competing on opening day or weekend without any real, ample practice time," Fenton said. "There is concern we are not properly acclimating student-athletes for competition, and many times, putting them into games without much practice."
The other change relates to exhibition games.
This season, the NCAA granted a waiver allowing men's and women's hockey teams to play exhibition games against other NCAA teams, including Division II and Division III opponents, without those games counting against the maximum number of allowable competitions.
UND, for example, will play an exhibition game against Bemidji State on Oct. 2.
Fenton said the conference commissioners and AHCA would like that waiver to be permanent.
"We are seeking a permanent legislative change similar to basketball and other sports," Fenton said.